We play Sunderland today and in order to regain our top 3 spot we need a win. However it most likely won’t be a straightforward game, seeing as Sunderland face an uphill battle for survival and Newcastle’s point at Anfield did little to alleviate the Black Cats’ fears.
We have a pretty good record against Sunderland overall, losing just one of the last 24 games (8 draws) and none of the last twelve. Also worth keeping in mind we have come out on top in the last 4 away games against the Black Cats. Finally, we have managed to beat Allardyce’s Sunderland twice already this season, with the same scoreline of 3-1. This means Fat Sam has only won 4 games out of 30 against Arsene Wenger, drawing just 7 matches in the process.
Sunderland’s league form is one you would expect from a relegation-headed side. Their last week’s win over Norwich was their first league win in seven attempts. Their home form can also hardly be called grand: one win in last 6 and only four wins from the last 17 matches.
However it shouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry it’s Arsenal they are playing. Though we haven’t lost any of our last 6 league games, we’ve managed to draw half of them, and thinking about the mess of a West Ham draw and a shambolic Crystal Palace showing still makes me want to smash things. Our away form could also be much better overall: the Gunners have only won 3 of the last 11 away league games. But I still think it’ll be easier for our players to deliver away from home right now, seeing as the Emirates crowd mostly creates a negative environment. I’m not judging, by the way, I’m simply stating a fact.
Our entire squad trained today, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean they are all ready to play. Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain most definitely won’t feature for now:
“They are not ready yet and I haven’t decided yet, but there are not many games left. We still have games in the under-21s, I can put them in the play-off games [if they are available]”.
Tomas Rosicky seems to have entered what I call “Mikel Arteta’s territory” cause the manager even stopped providing us with updates on the Czech’s fitness levels. Hopefully I’m wrong here and Tomas makes a surprise appearance on the bench sooner rather than later. I won’t hold my breath though.
That makes Jack Wilshere the only remaining player I haven’t touched on. It looks to be a 50/50 situation with him:
“At the moment I do not know if I will take him on Sunday or not. Should I take him, you cannot plan that he will play a part in the game.
He made a big improvement in the third [under-21s] game. In the first two he was alright, but in the third he found his burst back, the little change of pace. If I don’t take him this weekend, I will take him [in the squad] the weekend after, certainly”.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a Jack cameo, but again I don’t think the chances are particularly high. We should have enough to win this game without rushing Wilshere back anyway.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the changes Wenger made on Thursday were simply dictated by the need to rotate or if they were a part of a longer-reaching plan.
I’d definitely advocate keeping Mertesacker in central defense and would think hard about preserving that Elneny – Ramsey pivot. I somehow don’t doubt Welbeck will come back in, albeit Giroud performed much better than given credit for.
I guess a lot will depend on how much of a threat Wenger views this Sunderland midfield when the Frenchman decides on his own midfield base. I liked how Ramsey and Elneny dovetailed and how they went about their duties, but as I’ve stated after our Thursday win, the pair might prove a bit lightweight against more daunting opposition.
Apart from that it’s hard to see what Wenger might change.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Elneny – Alexis – Ozil – Iwobi – Welbeck
The last word
I was looking through the BBC’s preview of the game (where I usually take the head-to-head facts from) when I stumbled upon Lawro’s prediction that perfectly summed up my feelings right now:
“I am backing them (Sunderland) to pick up another point here, because I am not sure what to expect from Arsenal at the moment”.
Obviously I’m not backing Sunderland to get anything out of this game, I hope we blow them away to smithereens, but the last part rings true. I simply don’t know what to expect of Arsenal. I don’t know which Arsenal will show up and whether one will show up at all (figuratively speaking, of course). I wouldn’t put a lethargic performance ending with a loss past us, neither do I exclude the possibility of an exciting 3-0 win.
Anyway, come on you Gunners. Just win and take us one step closer to the end of this woeful season.